Retailers Have Opportunity as Working Folks Forgo Foodservice

Last Updated Jul 24, 2009 5:04 PM EDT

Working folks are hard pressed today, a study demonstrates, but their habits in the recession demonstrate one reason why food retailing has held up despite the economic downturn.

In a survey, 31 percent of working adults reported making less money due to the recession, and an even larger proportion, 76 percent reported cutting their food and beverage consumption, numbers that are consistent with the proposition that many consumers are worried enough by the economy to hoard dollars in case of layoffs or salary cuts.

"When it comes to how the recession has affected the daily routines of workers, fewer working consumers are purchasing breakfast, lunch and dinner out," said Stephanie Molnar, CEO of WorkPlace Media, a marketing firm that sponsored the study.

So food retailers have had an opportunity to grab more share of edibles dollars from foodservice operators and get consumers to consider them for more meal occasions. Whether its frozen microwavable egg sandwiches or flatbread pizza from the supermarket deli, food retailers are addressing consumers who are more open to new options as they try to live their lives but still save for what might be an even rainier day.

For example, when subjects were asked how the recession had affected their breakfast consumption habits:

  • 37 percent said their breakfast habits remained the same
  • 35 percent said they prepared breakfast meals at home more often
  • 23 percent said they purchased breakfast out less often
  • 10 percent said they discontinued purchasing breakfast out
  • 9 percent said they rarely ate breakfast anymore
  • 3 percent said they purchased cheaper fast food breakfast
The recession isn't everything. Only the smallest proportion of respondents said they chose to cut back by breakfasting on fast food alternatives. The study actually explored the issue of cost versus health, and only a third of respondents said cost trumped health. Cheaper fast food meals were rejected by 66 percent.

As for lunch:

  • 40 percent said they purchase lunch out less frequently
  • 39 percent said they prepared their lunch at home more often
  • 28 percent said their lunch spending habits remained the same
  • 8 percent said they purchased cheaper fast food lunch
  • 7 percent said they discontinued eating lunch out
  • 3 percent said they rarely ate lunch anymore
And finally, as you might have guessed, dinner:
  • 48 percent said they purchase dinner out less frequently
  • 42 percent said they prepared their dinner at home more often
  • 23 percent said their dinner spending habits hadn't changed
  • 7 percent said they chose cheaper fast food alternatives
  • 5 percent said they discontinued purchasing dinner out
  • 2 percent said they rarely ate dinner anymore
The study also provided insight into what working consumers who are cutting back on food spending want as they seek to save money. When asked how the recession had affected their grocery store shopping habits:
  • 57 percent said they use more coupons
  • 50 percent said they buy more generic products
  • 31 percent said they focus on larger stock-up trips
  • 23 percent said they buy fewer items on stock-up trips
  • 17 percent said they shopped more during lunch or on the way home from work
The final is a particularly interesting point and may reflect a trend toward consumers taking second jobs to help make ends meet after a spousal layoff or cut back in work hours at main jobs. Trying to serve two bosses may put low-cost convenience higher on the priority list.

"You can expect even more changes to these habits as the recession plays itself out and hopefully recedes," said Molnar. "But staying in touch with these changing attitudes is utterly crucial for any company looking to stay in step with today's working consumer."